Wednesday, January 30, 2008

look who's gurgling

George is gurging quite merily now. In the last few days he's really found his hands and know how to grab and grip and he's started to make lots more noise. He's perfectly happy to carry on a conversation in long burbling gurgles - answering when you talk to him, and patiently waiting for you to respond after he's spoken.

Me: "hello george"
george "eeeeeee"
me "hello george"
george " eeeooo"
me "hello george"
george " eeeooorr"
me "hello george"
george " eeellooorr"
me "David hastlehoff"
george " eeeeerrr?"

He obviously knows there's such a thing as a conversation, and has worked out that you need to use a selection of different noises to have one. However, he's not yet realised that there's a set syntax to the whole thing and that you need to string sounds together in a formal way.

He's a bit like John Prescott in that respect.

He had his last MRSA wash a couple of days ago - and it looks like his medication is slowly being wound down. We're just waiting for the final MRSA swab to come back, but we're expecting it to be negative, and that'll be the end of another part of his treatment.

Lisa took him to see her work collegues today and he came back very happy and cheerful.

Monday, January 28, 2008

by the way - jon - I've lost your email....predictably.

can you send it to me?
Friday was Burn's night at Sam's... and of course we couldn't just go and have a couple of drinks, we had to look up and follow all the rituals involved.

This included stabbing the haggis (in my case a vegetarian version), reciting a poem in scottish dialect, anouncing the haggis, and eating an absolutely appauling scottish desert made from porrige oats and whiskey (which tastes as bad as it sounds).

We also for some reason performed the "loving cup" ritual - which involves a complex arangement of people protecting each other from being stabbed while they drink from a single challace. apparently somebody once got stabbed in the back while drinking and the ritual was organised to prevent this - and carried on long after the danger was passed.

it's not much good against poisoned drink, though.

We also decided it would be a good idea if everyone bought a single malt whiskey and for the first time, I managed to work out what the difference between different whiskeys was and what "petey" meant.

I found out that I prefer Tobermory to any of the others - and that I don't really like Tobermory very much. The cocktails weren't bad though - and drambuie is OK (although I'm sure a real whiskey drinker would laugh).

Ellen stayed over on Friday night - and apparently for the first time didn't hate being around babies. or maybe she was just being polite.

talking to her, I realised there's a whole sub-culture of baby stuff going on:
when you've got a baby it's like having an unusual sports car. People with the same car will spontaneously nod, smile and chat to you... Being a member of the 'baby club' means you get invited to baby yoga, baby signing, baby salsa, power pramming, toddler cinema showings and a whole host of other baby events that would boggle the mind of the childless.

Then again, perhaps this is just in East Dulwich - which is a little like a gull colony - a place where thousands gather to breed and raise families. Although East Dulwich doesn't attract gulls - it attracts the middle classes....

at least that's why we came here.

Saturday's Guardian featured a pull out on videomaking with an article I'd written (how middle class is that?). Right next to it is an article by Alan Howard - who made the video for our wedding. Further on in the paper there's a book review.....and guess what? it's a review of Richard Fortey's latest book (with a footnote to the effect that he'll be signing copies in Waterstones this week).

In the afternoon it's a gathering of our antenatal group at Donna and Loti's house. Lot's of fun comparing our offspring's development and our various approaches to the huge task of child rearing... We're all trying not to take too much advice from the ridiculus but strangely beguiling books on the matter - The shadow of Gina Ford hangs over us all like a raven over a gull colony - waiting to swoop down at the slightest sign of weakness.

Half way through the party I look up and everyone's standing with babies swaying left to right to keep them quiet. Even those without babies are swaying in sympathy. it's a bit like a sureal drug induced hallucination.

That night, we decide to put George into his own room for the first time. surprisingly enough it works fairly well.

I speak to Mum on the phone. Last week, her new hip managed to dislocate, so she's been told she can't do anything for six weeks. Dad will have to look after her and by the sounds of it he's doing well considering he can't usualy boil a kettle without a set of instructions. It's a shame, but the injury means Mum won't be able to come up and see George for a while...

we'll have to arrange to go down there.

Still, Igor isn't moaning so much now - since Mum shouted at him last time she was down there. He needed it - he's been impossible since they moved into the home.... in fact since he had his stroke.... come to think of it, he was pretty difficult before...

Anyway, telling him she wasn't going to take it seems to have done the trick. I think mum needs to do that a bit more often... and with a few other people who take advantage of her.

On sunday we went shopping - managed to get all kinds of baby stuff. We decided we needed to buy George a couple of toys he can grip as he's suddenly over the last couple of days worked out what his hands are for and he's reaching, grabbing and moving things around.

he's even trying to hold his bottle.

Anyway, we got an award winning toy which seems to just be a tangle of rubber pipes - but which we're told is absolutely great if you're three months old.

it turns out that it is.. George loves it.

On the way home, a girl next to me is explaining to her parents how she'd like to chain her sister to the broccli counter at the supermarket and leave her there....

we've got all that to come

Friday, January 25, 2008

George was three months old yesterday - and he's just reached a big milestone. He's for the first time become a "normal" baby. In other words his weight (at 4.3kg) is now just in the bottom range that's considered acceptible for a child of his age.

It's good news, and we celebrated by painting his hands and feet green.

actually we've been meaning to do this for a while - get his footprints and handprints for an album and for families. It was - as everything involving George is - a messy process involving our getting paint in an unimaginable number of places. Still George didn't seem to mind (although he didn't sleep well afterwards).

Gillian came round for tea (she was EARLY!) and we drank apple juice all night and ate re-fried beans I'm trying to cut down on wine during the week and Lisa's trying to cut down on high-fat food. Both are going out the window tonight - it's burns night and we're celebrating with haggis ,neeps and taties and whiskey.....

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Finshed the trilobite book yesterday and when I turned on the today programme this morning the author, Richard Fortey was on there promoting his new book about the natural history museum.

It seems that in retiring he's becoming something of a star (well, I say "retiring" - scientists never retire any more than artists do - they simply stop being paid).

My plan is to interview him for a documentary on trilobites - one of a few docs I hope to make this year... if I ever get my computers and baby all working correctly at the same time.

Houses and the end of the world
Got a call from the agents running my house in Manchester to say they've found a new tennant for it - which is good news financially - but Lisa's seriously considering buying more houses.... Worthing and Penge being favourite locations of the moment.

I think we'll see how the stock market crash and the housing slump and the credit crunch and the fiscal discombobulation (ok I made the last one up) procede first. Perhaps I'm just a pessimist or perhaps I just tend to react with alarm when everyone else blithely wanders around saying "yes I know it's happened before, but the people in charge are all SO much cleverer nowadays".

There always seems always to be an air of confidence that events which overturn our world simply aren't going to happen - just because they're unimaginable from the perceived safety of the current world.

That's why, nobody predicted the wall street crash, the rise of Hitler or the way the Internet would change our lives - even though with the benefit of hindsight they were all bloody obviously going to happen.

It's also why now it's so hard to picture global warming putting London underwater, the rise of China and India as world leaders or a crash in house prices - it's not that any of them are unlikely - we just react instantly against them ideas because they're so hard to picture from where we are now.

In reality, economic crashes happen, civilisations rise and fall, and Hitler is never vanquished - he just waits for the right combination of desperation and pride to return. People make the same mistakes or new ones and I think the veneer of our society is quite thin. We're never as safe as we think we are.

Visiting time
Sarah, Lisa's bridesmaid came over last night. She's been told by her bosses she has to find out what it's like on the shop floor, so they've sent her out to watch some people reparing water pipes... Apparently, firms today don't like their management to become disconnected from the rest of the staff. and apparently a couple of days in a boiler suit will sort all that out for them. Well, good luck.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

why macs are so crap

I finally got to write the tutorial for Computer music magazine on editing today. I had to write two tutorials on how to edit a rock video using cheap software on a Mac and a PC.

The PC version was relatively straightforward and as expected, the mac version was a real pig.

Obviously, the fact that I'm using cheap and free software means there aren't the options i'd like and that's a bit frustrating, but worse than that is the Apple ethos which pervades everything they do.

It's not that the mac does things differently to the PC - and that I'm used to the way the PC works - it's more that the very thing the Mac is sold on is fake.

let me explain:

Macs are sold on the idea that they're the arty person's computer. They're creative where the PC is businesslike. However, in truth, the mac makes it very very easy to do the things its programmers think you'd want to do. The predictable dull, businesslike things work perfectly and intuatively in just the way you'd expect them to.

However, if you deviate. if you want to do something different. if you have, horror of horrors, your own creative idea of what you want to do or how you want to do it, the architecture makes it virtually impossible.

The mac is built on the impossibly arogant notion that the programmers will have thought of everything you might want to do and planned for you the perfect way to do it. This is almost never true in real life.

It's a bit like having a car which has just one button on the dashboard marked "go home". Press the button and the car will go home. It's a triumph of engineering - the easiest car to drive ever created.

Unless you want to go somewhere other than home.

in which case you have to take the engine out or buy a new car.

and this extends to other apple products: take the ipod - beautiful piece of design and I wouldn't be without mine. But what if you don't want to use the clumsy Itunes? what if you just want to drag your tunes from the desktop to the ipod - you can do it with every other mp3 player on the market. But with the ipod, all your files are renamed and re-positioned so you can't tell which song is which file. so when itunes stops working -or when you're on a computer you haven't installed it on or when you're using your machine for something else and don't want to have it getting in the way - you're stuffed.

By contrast, the PC allows gives you options - creative possibilities - everything you want to do can be done several different ways and if one doesn't work, proves difficult, or you just don't like it, you can pick another.

Now that's an artist's computer.

Monday, January 21, 2008

It was a weekend of catching up - on saturday we had lunch with Ellen and Dean (as well as completely failing to pick up a fish tank from some unspecified address in Ealing). On sunday Sarah and James came round for Sunday lunch. Sam joined us and brought a cheesecake from her Weight Watcher's recipe book.

George seemed to enjoy Saturday more than Sunday. He had a bad day on Sunday, but as James and Sarah pointed out - a bad day for him isn't really bad - it's a long way from him being constantly miserable - he simply smiles a bit less than usual! it also meant George had a rather unfortunate accident (actually there was nothing accidental about it) while we were changing his nappy.

It was good to catch up with people we haven't seen for far too long - we're trying very hard not to let George turn us into recluses. We've known far too many people disapear off the face of the earth as soon as they have children and I can understand just how it happens, but we're trying to avoid it. Dean was surprised at the fact we'd managed to get on the tube with George and not turned up with a trailler full of baby stuff - but I think we're a bit less precious about him than we could have been. We figure he's had open heart surgery - he can cope with not having his favourite hat along with six other hats just in case he doesn't like it. He can cope with not carrying a bunch of what we've decided are his favourite toys even though he doesn't know what toys are yet. he can cope without fourteen different grades of moisturiser...

That said, I'm sure as soon as George starts deciding for himself what to take with him, things will get a lot more complicated!
The strange gap in his skull at the top of his head seems to be finally closing up. Apparently it's something all babies have, but it's a bit disconcerting poking at his brain through a hole in his skull....

Recipe: nut loaf

a handful of cachew nuts

4-5 slices of bread

a spoonfull of Marmite

thyme and rosemary

a handfull of mushrooms

2 eggs

an onion

Fry the onion and mushrooms. meanwhile, put the bread, marmite and herbs in a food processor along with the eggs. Mix the onion, mushrooms and nuts in, press the whole lot into a loaf tin and bake in the oven for about half an hour.

You can pretty much put anything you like in - you can replace the nuts with lentils, kidney beans or chickpeas. you can leave out the mushrooms. you can add cheese or tomatoes. it's pretty foolproof and always tastes good.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


George woke at 2am on Tuesday night and 4am last night. Not a problem – he’s only just back from the hospital and given that we put him to bed at 8 both nights, he’s doing well settling in. Fractured nights sleep leads to fractured dreams – trying to answer a crossword while knowing that since it was a dream, the clue couldn’t have been real – and for some reason, hunting swans for food in a privet-hedge-maze…. Not sure what’s going on there.. at least heart surgery doesn’t feature anymore!

He still can’t seem to believe that his world has changed so much in the last week – Obviously his heart was affecting him far more than we thought because now he just can’t stop smiling (except when he’s crying). He’s even more alert – if that was possible – although there are times when he’ll suddenly cry out for no reason. I think there’s still some pain from his cut, or the drains that they had to put into his chest and groin.

Lisa is determined that George is going to become an Olympic swimmer (he certainly has the feet for it). Every time she baths him, she pushes him up to the edge of the bath and waits for him to kick his legs out, and then pulling him back through the water.

He’s going to grow up with a deeply embedded memory of the joys of swimming even before he learns to do it.

I shouldn’t be surprised – Lisa was in her school swimming team, and by the sounds of it she was the only member of the team not to end up as an Olympic or Commonwealth swimmer! At least two other members of her team did…

I think 2012 will be a bit early though as he’ll only be five.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Tax has to be taxing

With George back from hospital I can now try to start putting my work life back together. This means there's a whole raft of bitty things to do today the most pressing of which is my self assesment tax form.

I do a lot of adding up of recipts and even though I've been freelance for years, this process always leaves me with a vague sense that I've missed something big or got something wrong that will come back to haunt me some time in the next 5 years.

I'm hoping not, but who knows?

It's a little like being back at school - kn0wing your homework will be marked and knowing there will be consequences if you get it wrong, but not having any idea of the marking criterior or what the examiner is looking for.

"Tax doesn't have to be taxing" the revenue's slogan is relentlessly repeated on TV and the radio- but the rest of the advertising is nothing but thinly veiled threats. No hint of why it doesn't have to be taxing or indication of the help they're offering to stop it from being taxing. Like a doctor claiming "this will hurt me more than it hurts you" it's simply untrue.

If the adverts were made by any privately owned business they'd be illegal - judged to misrepresent the facts.

Monday, January 14, 2008

We're out of hospital

George is going home

We were released from hospital today.

It was a bit of a surprise since we thought we'd be in until at least tomorrow. All the tests, xrays, etc. that needed to be done for our release were done very quickly but we had to wait 5 and a half hours for the pharmacist to turn up with George's medication.

All in all, it was great to see the back of the place - even though they've been great - and it was good to run into the surgeon on the way out and thank him.

George continued his nice happy smiling demeanour throughout last night and most of the day - much to Lisa's disappointment. She only got about 2 hours sleep - every time she tried to go to sleep, George cried to bring her back to his bedside to play and then giggled his way through until she tried to get back to sleep.

He's apparently decided that sleep was a pre-operation aberration which he can now comfortably dispense with. He hasn't had any for 36 hours now and shows no sign of giving up.

He's also chosen today (we think) to start teething - so all afternoon he's been veering from smiling and giggling to screams of pain and anguish. At times he's even crying while smiling!

on the way home, he quietened every time the taxi started moving only to cry at every traffic light. The Green Wave I was told about on Saturday night was nowhere to be seen. It was more like a red wave.

Lisa's so glad to be home - and we've got a bottle of champagne to celebrate our safe return.

zip and the art of tidying up

This morning before leaving I decided to do a quick tidy up. The radio was on in the background - a programme about memory and the way it's understood to work. I don't think they've got it right. I think it's all to do with patterns and rhythms again.

As I rapidly tidied the house, I realised that all I was really doing was putting similar things together. Clothes go with other clothes, books go with books, kitchenware goes with kitchenware. It's all about finding patterns in things and creating order by re-inforcing those patterns.

By doing this, you end up with a few things that you can't place without making descisions - the odd letter that can't be filed - the odd cushion that seems to belong in no particular room - things that don't fit your patterns and rhythms (don't worry - I am going somewhere with all this!).

What's interesting is that you don't really see these things and their problems until you sort everything else into patterns. In other words, the decision making process can be reduced to simply looking for patterns and rhythms that you've found in the past and putting things into those patterns. Difficult decisions are simply things that don't belong in any of the patterns your experience has given you (or worse things that belong in more than one place).

If you've got the rhythms and the patterns that fit the situation you're in, you can make decisions easily. If you haven't, you can't.

But the same goes for memory: you remember your first journey to work because it's a new pattern, but you don't remember every journey - only the things that make a particular journey different. You can get to work remembering nothing at all about how you got there. If your work is very repetitive your memory can ignore whole days simply because nothing out of the ordinary happens.

It's a bit like the way computers compress information into zip files... instead of remembering 7 identical apples it remembers what one apple is like, and that there are 7 of them. It looks for patterns in the file, and compresses it by giving each pattern a code and then removing it. It can then look for patterns in the codes - rhythms within rhythms - and compress them.

So I think our memories work the same way - we remember that certain things happen in certain ways then file only the differences - the out of the ordinary. That's why the memory lies - we remember a car accident because we don't see them every day - but we don't accurately remember the cars themselves (as court cases frequently prove) because a car is just a pattern we've learned to remember in shorthand - three letters to remember instead of a quarter of a ton of complex mechanisms.

My observations get tidied into patterns just in the same way as I tidy the house, reducing the complexity of the world until it's easy to deal with.

So, if discovery, science and art are just the act of seeing and repeating patterns and rhythms and memory is just the same thing - and decision making is the same process again - and character and personality are simply a result of the patterns we've learnt, then maybe our brains are really not as complex as we think.

Maybe everything else our brains do can be reduced to the same rules - maybe all our brains really are is just a battery of processors for finding and reducing patterns and rhythms in a mechanical fashion.

And, of course, if that's true then the processing power doesn't have to be that great either - and sooner or later we'll have to wonder whether zip files have a conciousness...

Sunday, January 13, 2008

sun 13th

sun 13th

A day of visitors

I've been wondering what effect the operation will have on George's personality. Will he have more energy at different times? be more active? cry more? sleep less? Will I even recognise him once he's no longer restricted by the work of his heart?

Today, George reassures me. He is much brighter - much more like his old self. He's been smiling and giggling all day, and is barely sleeping at all. he's drinking his milk much more actively. He also produced the biggest pooh of his life - still, you can't have everything.

My Mum visited and it was great to see her. We went for lunch and Mum gave him his milk. when she left, Gillian and Hazel arrived to give George more attention.

George is fascinated by a book given to him by Hailey from the NTC group. It's a simple set of high contrast images of snowflakes in black and white with a few bold colours. I think a lot of thought must have gone into those geometric shapes because he's fixated by them. Perhaps the contrast and bold colours are easier to interpret than our complex world with its subtle shades and shifting shapes.

However I think it's more than that - there's repetition in the snowflakes - each one repeating simpler shapes in circles and those shapes combine in different ways in each snowflake. some pages show just one flake - others have them arranged in patterns. Some have repetitions of the same flake - others have combinations of different ones.

It's another case of the appeal of rhythms and repitition - the fact that when something happens again and again in the same way, you can begin to know what will happen next. You can begin to predict the world - to make connections between things - to understand and plan for a future which has some certainty.

And once you've nailled the certainties and come up with your theories - whether they're which shapes make up a snowflake or when you're feeds will come, or how night follows day or beats follow beats in a song - you can be thrilled by the challenge posed by changes in the rhythms. you can enjoy the unexpected. You can build on your knowledge of the world and enjoy the excitement of untangling its new layers of complexities - safe in the knowledge that you've got the basic rules under control.

Rhythms and patterns are basic and fundemental to our ability to make sense of the world - and finding new and unexpected events leads to new rhythms and more complex patterns. I'm glad George loves the book because the love of and the search for patterns and rhythms is what links art, and science - what makes us love and seek knowledge and understanding and beauty and it's an appreciation and a quest that lasts our whole lives - if we're lucky.

Plus snowflakes are pretty.

sat 12th

sat 12th

A bit of a sleepy day for George. He's subdued and quiet. still no smiles even though he's now off all the wires and pipes. he's taking almost the same food as before the operation, but it's a slow process.

We pick up a copy of the Guardian and there's a full page article about the Natural History Museum. in a massive coincidence the article happens to be written by the Trilobite scientist I talked about yesterday. How do these coincidences happen?

It's Nick's house warming party and I decide to go along for a couple of hours. It's great to escape for a while - even if Lisa can't. I keep asking people if they're librarians. Nick and Sam are, so it's as good a place as any to start a conversation - although it comes out sounding like an insult for some reason. I meet one woman who's studying what she calls "the green wave".

Apparently traffic lights are set in some parts of London are set so that if the average speed of traffic is below 30 mph then all the traffic lights go green in front of the cars. If the speed exceeds 30 they start going red to slow everything down. This is supposed to stop congestion. She's looking into it because apparently there are health benefits in terms of less road casualties and less polution - but I had no idea politicians actually took notice of public health issues when programming traffic lights.

Friday, January 11, 2008

edmund hillary

Formal introductions
Hospital workers have clearly been told that they need to make sure the patient (or service user) isn’t confused by the stream of people examining, prodding and poking at them and that every person is treated as a human being. This is a very good thing, but it leads to a strange hospital custom of formal introductions.

Every time anyone comes in, they formally introduce themselves: “hello, I’m suchandsuch and I’m the one of the nurses looking after George today” - always the same form of words.

Every time another nurse or doctor enters, the one looking after George introduces him: “this is George – he’s 2 ½ months old. He had a VSD operation yesterday. He’s on morphine and frusimide.” All very clear, polite and personal. They even introduce themselves to each other in a similar way.

Unhappy day
George was miserable most of the day. Grouchy, restless and difficult to console. Yesterday they were supposed to give him paracetemol, but for some reason he never got it. Today he did get it, but it didn’t seem to help. I think it’s at least partially that he’s not really got to move around and play over the past few days and he’s just bored.

The beeping machine that doesn’t work is still beeping every few minutes and nobody’s responding to it, so Lisa’s having to turn it off. This means she hasn’t got any sleep last night. I hope she gets some tonight.

On the more positive side, he’s had his final air tube removed. He’s now just got a feeding tube (again – never used). He’s looking a lot freer now, but still hasn’t smiled since the operation. It looks like we should be going home early next week.

The Noble trainspotter

Right now, I’m reading a beautifully written book by a man who spent his entire carreer studying trilobites. You could say that studying trilobites is a pretty pointless thing to do. Edmund Hillary died yesterday – the first man to climb everest. You could also say that climbing everest is a pretty pointless thing to do.

Almost everything we do as humans could be judged pointless in the end. The point is not to find the point – the point is to commit yourself wholeheartedly to whatever it is you decide to do regardless of whether it seems pointless to others. Society decides that train spotters are of less value than the discoverers of DNA – but basically they’ve done the same thing – compiling endless tables of figures and facts. Pursuing wholeheartedly a goal which only they see as interesting. The fact that one endeavour produces something of world changing significance and one doesn’t is only by chance.

Obviously train spotters don’t labour under the hope of discovering something fundamental about the nature of life – or believe that one day they’ll end up at the top of the world’s highest mountain, but that doesn’t make the impulse which drives them any different. People who commit themselves wholeheartedly to goals generally aren’t seeking society’s blessing – they’re just fascinated by something - and that for me is fantastic.

Who are we to judge one obsession more valid than another? To say that climbing Everest is a great and noble purpose whereas cataloguing trilobites isn’t. It’s not the subject of the obsession, but the fact that somebody will wholeheartedly commit to doing something while others will only wonder what the point is.

I, for one see the trilobite studier and the train spotter and Hillary as the result of the same noble impulse and I hope I can emulate them. It’s only by obsessively pursuing a goal that everyone else thinks is reckless, impossible or pointless that anything worthwhile is achieved.

Society doesn't know what obsessions will turn out to be important or life would just be an episode of The X factor- take Van Gogh's art, Mendel's peas. The difference between vision and foolishness is simple chance and if it’s up to us to determine the point of life, then the only way to judge our contribution is to judge how wholeheartedly we pursue the goals we set for ourselves.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Jan 10 2008

Jan 10 2008
This morning, the various machines surrounding George had mostly gone dark. The syringe machines were all off. The ventilator was off (although he still has a less intrusive breathing machine – two little pipes up his nose which make a constant, quiet hiss). Only the monitors showing his heart, blood pressure and saturation remain.

We’re told he’s ready to leave intensive care (actually it’s called PICU – paediatric intensive care unit – but I like PICU – it sounds like a Pokemon). Each PICU child has a little stuffed pony figure – a Heath Robinson device to wedge under the child’s head to stop it rolling on its pipes and wires. We’re calling ours Picu.
However, he can’t leave because there are no beds in Camel ward. There are two other children ahead of him in the queue to leave PICU (they’re ahead because they’re older and so they complain more- and PICU is a quiet place).

Looking out of the window of our private cubicle, we catch glimpses of other children in other beds. One looks as though he’s having cpr but everyone is laughing and smiling, so it can’t be that. Another’s parents are chatting to the nurse. I think that’s probably part of the nurse’s job – as the patient’s stabilise, there’s less for the nurses to do and there’s never anything for the parents to do, so chatting to the nurses is the only entertainment.

We take a trip at lunchtime to go up to pick up the shark documentary which I’ve had to have copied to HD tape for Electric Sky. When we return, there’s a bed in Camel ward (actually it’s not the bed’s, but the staff that are short). We move out of PICU to our own room in Camel ward (one of the perks of MRSA). We take with us a portable screen for displaying George’s vital signs which keeps emitting beeping noises until the nurse who doesn’t know how to use it properly turns it off.

George still has a couple of wires and the nasal breathing tubes, but is looking a lot brighter. He’s also being given more food and is starting to enjoy it again.

Pietro, Russ and Evelyn visit later in the day, and it’s great to see them. It’s all feeling so much more normal with visits and being back on the normal ward. For the first time since the operation I come home and am able to type up this blog.

9th jan 2008

9th jan2008

The character of the unconscious
There’s an assumption that an unconscious person – or someone in intensive care – is a body. An unresponsive shell. That people around exhibit their own personality while the body on the bed does nothing – is devoid of personality.

This is not the case.

The human character comes through regardless of consciousness, drugs and injury. George’s stubbornness in the face of his sedatives, the excitement he shows in his heart rate when the doctors suround him. The reduction in blood pressure when he hears our voices chatting to the nurse. The growing discomforts and sudden calms he exhibits in reaction to events inside his body and outside –these all combine to bring his personality into sharp focus.

Perhaps we just imagine these things – perhaps they’re just the result of the incredibly close monitoring of the intensive care unit.

On the other hand, perhaps when you take away all the window dressing of day to day life – all the distractions and the diversions – you finally get to what defines and creates a person. From today, I see George as strong, resilient and quick to bounce back, interested in people, and curious about everything, not accepting of his fate, but knowing his own mind. Even under morphine and sedatives, able to know the difference between Lisa and I and the Doctors and nurses.

Can I really read all this from a few random movements and a screen full of pulsing graphs? If not, then I have to wonder why the nurse comes out with the same observations before I do.

The idiot’s guide to intensive care
When you first see an intensive care ward, it’s a bewildering array of machines, pipes and monitors and the nurses are moving around all over the place in a slow but deliberate dance, constantly pushing buttons and changing settings while alarms of varying kinds go off at intervals.

However, once you work it out, it’s a little clearer. In fact it would make a great videogame. Here’s how it works:

Either side of the bed are two rows of modular machines about 10cm by 30cm. Each can have a syringe of drugs clipped into it. The machines move imperceptibly slowly, feeding the drug into the patient and the nurse controls their speed – changing the rate of administration by minute increments. If the pipes get blocked – either because there’s something wrong, or because George moves, a dull alarm goes off and they have to be re-adjusted.

George is on four right now – a water one, SMP (which keeps him sleepy), Morphine (to control the pain) and another drug to lower his blood pressure.

Below the bed and to one side is the ventilator – George’s artificial breathing machine. It is contoled by a complex looking panel of knobs and digital displays controlling the rate, strength and consistency of the air he’s given and each time it gives him a breath, the pipes leading to his nose jump like something alive. There are two significant numbers on the device – one (in green) shows the number of breaths he’s being given per minute (23 is about right) and the other (in red) is the number detected. Thus, if both numbers are 23, then he’s taking as many breaths as the machine gives him. If the red number rises, then he’s starting to breathe on his own – and the difference is the number of breaths he’s taking of his own free will. The idea of the game is to reduce the green figure slowly until George is doing all the work himself. If the ventilator isn’t working (usually because the nurse has replaced it with a hand operated balloon type ventilator while his lungs are drained of fluid or some other procedure is undertaken) then a loud, urgent sounding alarm goes off.

Above the panel is a display showing his heart rate, his blood pressure and its saturation. From this you can work out if he’s awake, asleep or having problems. Touching this screen gives more information about each graph.

As you probably know, blood pressure is actually two figures expressed as a fraction. If you notice that a heart beat is in two parts (ba-boom – ba-boom – ba-boom) then the top figure is the time between the end of the boom and the next ba – and the bottom figure is the time between the ba and the boom (which is the time the valves take to open and close. The top figure for George should be around 90 – but it started off at about 125-130 – possibly because his heart has had to work very hard all his life, and hasn’t got used to the idea that it now doesn’t need to).

If the figures go a little off normal, a warning beep sounds – which is really just there to make the nurse take notice of it – and the figures flash. The nurse then usually makes an adjustment to add more sedative, or morphine, and turns the alarm off. If things go too far off normal, the alarm is higher pitched and more urgent. Turning the alarm off just resets it, so it will go off again quite quickly. The alarms can be turned off completely if they’re too annoying, but then a red light on the top of the monitor flashes to remind you not to leave the alarms switched off.

The idea of the intensive care game is to adjust the medications so that the alarms don’t keep going off. This stabilises your patient and gets everything under control, but really it’s all about giving the patient’s own body time to take back control so you can slowly reduce and eventually remove the medications and interventions one by one until he’s doing everything himself.

The doctors occasionally pop in to give advice to the nurses and tell us what they plan to do, but they’re responding to their reading of the text books – when the doctors leave, the nurses who are with George 24 hours a day watching his responses tell us what’s really going to happen.

Don’t use the lifts
We’ve learnt not to use the lifts to the Intensive care unit. We’ve also learnt to avoid the family room. Both are places where visitors go when things go wrong. In the family room, you hear conversations you’d rather not hear, and in the lifts today, we passed a crying woman holding a tiny pink blanket.

The stairs are better by far – and have the additional advantage that if you’re eating the hospital food, the excercise of using the stairs may help you avoid your own cardiac surgery.

Taking out The tubes
Gradually, over the course of the day, the intensive care game was won by stages - a few of George’s tubes were removed and some of the medication syringes were turned off or scaled down. First to go was the breathing tube – when it was removed, he was able to make sounds for the first time since the operation (the tube went through his vocal chords – I did ask if they could leave it there, but no such luck). He Started with a horse whimper and moved over the course of the day towards full throated crying.

He wasn’t fully awake for most of the time – with the sedative still keeping him quite drowsy, but he did still make his presence felt. However, removing the breathing tube meant removing the morphine (which affects his breathing apparently).

Eventually, his tubes were reduced and we were able to pick him up and cuddle him which quietened him a little. Lisa’s mum came in at lunch time – on a flying visit on the way back from working at Peter’s and we had lunch with Sam .

Later, we were even able to give him a little food. He’s on just a syringe full every 2 hours which just wets his apetite for more and upsets him, but it’s a start.

Later still, we go out and meet Sam again at a Japanese restaurant directly above the London Aquarium (it’s a great restaurant and the fish is so fresh I wonder if they have drilled a hole in the floor). I’m tense – the last couple of days are catching up with me, and it’s good to have some time away from the hospital.

George doesn’t notice us leave. He’s not asleep, but has suddenly become fixated on the waveforms tracing across the screen.. we leave him staring – hypnotised by his own heartbeat.

8 jan 2008 - George is OK

8 jan 2008
George is OK
Sam and I arrived early – about 7:30am because George was due to go in for the operation at about 8. However, last night’s surgery overran, so he didn’t end up going in until 12:00
This meant that by the time he went in, he hadn’t eaten for hours. Like most Darkins and Most Davies’ he doesn’t like missing meals, and he was not easy to live with in the morning. We went down to breakfast to discover a fire alarm going off which only the restaurant staff seemed to think was worth taking notice of. The rest of the hospital, staff, patients and visitors ignored it completely. We did get breakfast in the end (all except George).

Throuought the morning, Sam did a great job in distracting us – we spent the time planning the next South London Food Club meeting. This time it’s going to be 1970’s canned and packet food only, so we had a great time reliving angel delight, fray bentos pies and canned macaroni cheese. More of that in February when the dinner party takes place...

What’s in a name?
Anyway, they came for George at 12:00. The nurse noticed his name tag read “George Darkin” which I thought was pretty accurate. However, as it turns out, all his medical notes are in the name Darklin because of a spelling mistake when he last visited the hospital (I’ve learned throughout my life that nobody can spell Darkin and that most of the time you need to spell it out every time you meet anyone new. The nurse’s name was Thomas – and since he worked in st Thomas’ hospital, he probably didn’t suffer from the same nonclemature problems).
I had noticed that they got the name wrong and when they called at Christmas to arrange this appointment, they promised to correct it – but of course, they didn’t.
The nurse today decided that it would be much better if instead of changing the name on the records to Darkin, they changed the name on the tag to Darklin. Aparently, calling him Darkin would cause so much administrative disruption that his operation and probably his whole case would have to be cancelled. It would also lead to him being given the wrong blood during transfusion...

Lisa and I took George, who had by now fallen asleep because he’d been crying so much, down to the operating theatre where he woke up just as they gave him his sedative. He was suddenly very alert, taking notice of everyone and watching what they were doing as they injected the drugs into his system.

We said goodbye to him as he drifted off to sleep and left him with the surgeons. Lisa was in tears when we left the room, but it took me until we got into the lift to leave the hospital before I lost it too.

Sam took us out of the hospital – shepherding us down to a restaurant called ES (which seemed to be another name for TAS) under a railway arch. Again, she distracted us while the trains passed overhead like imagined thunder. The time passed quickly, but every time I closed my eyes, I saw George in the operating theatre – his tiny heart exposed.

Not allowing us to stop for too long, Sam took us to a selection of shops – for some reason this part of London is home to a series of shops selling 1950’s memorabilia – ranging from bizarre dolls of henry VIII and his wives to clothing and old magazines. There’s even a hairdresser offering cuts from bygone times (although not to me). After a lot of dressing up for Sam and Lisa, we ended up in a cross between a Parisian cafe and a motor cycle repair shop.

There among the vespa’s and the faked photos of the Eiffel tower we played connect 4 and drank tea (I’d resigned myself after two undrinkable espresso’s in different cafe’s today that I was having a bad coffee day) and waited for the call from the hospital.

It came at about 3pm – an hour earlier than we’d expected. We rushed back to the hospital to be told that the operation had gone fine, that the surgeon had discovered that the hole was oval instead of round, so instead of putting a patch on the heart, he’d been able to just sew it closed - a preferable option. We were also told that George had MRSA – which apparently is not as serious or as rare as the media have told us it is. In fact, most of us have MRSA on our skin naturally – and it only does harm if it gets into the blood.

Apparently, it’s so common outside of hospital that they used to isolate patients who didn’t have it. All MRSA means to George is that he gets his own private room and has to have his skin cleaned with pink liquid every day for a couple of weeks.

Going in to visit him, he didn’t look his best – there were half a dozen pipes taking things into his body, about half a dozen more draining fluids out and a further half a dozen wires measuring his vital signs. The scar on his chest was fresh and he was breathing through a tube. However, we assured that everything was fine by a nurse who was constantly at his side minutely altering the doses of his medication. His blood pressure was a little high, but nothing out of the ordinary.

We sent a few text messages and made some phone calls – and lots of people responded with good wishes which lifted our spirits a lot.

Sam didn’t want to come in to see him – not her kind of thing and I don’t blame her – so she went home. Lisa and I were given a room (provided by McDonallds in an uncharacteristically charitable, but probably very calculated move) so we could both stay while he was in intensive care.

It took a while to clean the room (because of an ongoing dispute between the cleaners and the nurses which seems to lead to constant rows), so we had dinner (leftovers from the French dinner on Sunday) and watched an hour-long episode of Emerdale (joy of joys). It gave us a bit of a break from watching the graphs trace his life signs constantly across the screens.

When we went back, George had been moved to his own room, and the plan for his next couple of days began to emerge. They wanted to slowly wake him, slowly transferring responsibility for his breathing from the machines to his lungs and reducing his medication until he could cope on his own. They hope to remove his breathing tube sometime tomorrow, and we’ll be able to feed and cuddle him then.

Over the course of the evening, the blood pressure continued to be a problem, but it improved, and the alarms went off less and less. He constantly fought the effects of the sedative – waking himself up (to a point) no matter how much SMP and Morphine they gave him, he still kept waking up. But then that’s George – he always wants to know what’s going on. Just like his parents.

We went to bed at about 10pm. I knew Lisa would have stayed all night if she could, so I had to tear her away. I can’t look after George, but I can make sure she gets food and sleep. We’re convinced George is in the best hands and far more confident than if he were at Kings...

Monday, January 7, 2008

3.96kg George's weight today

As you can see, george woke up this morning with no worries about going into hospital. He didn't share our concern and apprehention. Instead he kept himself happy and contented all day. He grinned his way through his x-rays and his scans and his other tests.

However, at about 4:30 when they tried to put a canula in (a big needle running into the viens on the back of his hand) it was a little too much. they tried and failled to find his vein and eventually had to come back. At the forth attempt they finally got it but had to put his whole arm in a splint to stop it from coming out.

He cried for most of the rest of the day.

We got shown around the intensive care unit where it appears we'll be spending most of the rest of this week. we also got George weighed again and he's now 3.96kg - so well up on last week.

The operation will take place tomorrow starting at about 8am but there's an emergency case which might delay ours for a while - we're not too sure yet.

We're back on Camel Ward at St Thomas' oposite a family we met last time we were in. Their son has (apart from a lot of other problems) seems to have developed an infection known only from 36 other people in the world and they're really struggling to work out what to do about it. they're a lovely family though and constantly offer us their home made curries!

I still don't know if I'm going to be able to stay over at the hospital tomorrow - or how long the operation will take. I had to leave before the surgeon returned from his current emergency to tell us (or more specifically - tell Lisa - Doctors and Nurses talk only to the mother - I am completely ignored in every exchange) what was going to happen, but I left Lisa and George in the hands of a night nurse who rather unsettlingly reminded me of the dippy girl from the Vicar of Dibley...

Apparently lisa has signed the consent form now, but has successfuly avoided the pre-op conversation you're now legaly obliged to have in which the doctors have to tell you all the things that could go wrong.

I can see why they have to do this, but in George's case, it's pointless. without the operation, he will die, so it really doesn't matter what the risks are. we're better off not knowing.

I return home to find that the only things on TV are The Others (a film about a bunch of dead children) and Dawn of The Dead (a film about a bunch of living dead adults).

Instead I go to bed after watching a documentary on intensive farming (about a bunch of dead chickens).

I'm writing this in bed at midnight...

breaking bread

Saturday, lisa went to the cinema to be upset by the Kite Runner while I stayed at home with George and made a half hearted attempt to try to catch up with some work (editing a pilot idea for a video podcast I'd like to try to convince the natural history museum to fund)... of course George made it impossible to do anything much apart from play with him. Gillian popped round later which meant I could legitimately abandon trying to do anything!

On sunday we'd planned to go to see a Mummer's play being performed outside the Globe theature. in the event, several other people also decided to go, and we couldn't get near the action. instead, Lisa and I, Sam, Debs and Mark and Raoul ended up drinking in a turkish resturant as a prelude to going back to Sam's and drinking some more.

It was supposed to be another meeting of the South london Food club - this time with a French theme. however, it ended up as a way to use up the vaguely french leftovers from Christmas (centred around Sam's Cassole - not sure of the spelling there).

Most of us didn't have time to do much cooking, so ended up just bringing French wine - so the evening went well anyway (I did make some oddly shaped bread - but left it rising for far too long).

With Raoul there, as well as Gareth and Ian Tokelove, the evening ended by turning into a philosophical discussion on the nature and nurture of human sexual attraction - all kicked off by Raoul and I talking about the prospects for eternal life, and Gareth describing his meeting with his new thai girlfriend (who he spotted accross a crowded train station) and her subsequent inability to accept that he'd arranged to spend new year's eve at a fetish club without her - and with two other women (Sam and Jane).

my take on the sexual attraction thing was basically that if women are there to have children, then men are there to give women a safe environment to do it - and that when we learned to make bread, we men basically made ourselves redundant. by planting crops and making bread, we removed the need to be hunters, and allowed ourselves to create completely safe environments for our families. Unfortunately, sexual attraction is instinctively based, so it still leaves us looking for someone who can fill those old roles.

That means that modern men have two options: either continually look for trouble so that they can show off to women about how good they are at rescuing them from it - which kind of defeats the object. Or - to become nerds - to try to compete on intelectual grounds -showing their prowess at solving mental rather than physical problems and hope that women will somehow understand from that that if a sabre -toothed tiger did come along we'd be able to deal with it.

Neither solution really works.

Meanwhile, Jane's son, Nathan honed the art of the con by making a series of wagers with members of the party... I did help him out with a couple of pieces of advice:

1) Let the punter win the first 10p bet
2) then say "let's make it interesting" and raise the stakes.

he seemed to get the idea fairly quickly.

Friday, January 4, 2008

extra TVs and racist taxi drivers

Today I’m interviewing a microbiologist about setting up colonies on alien worlds in Milton Keynes. Ok – I’m interviewing a microbiologist in Milton Keynes about setting up colonies on alien worlds… interesting stuff and got some great material from him.

“we’re all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars” as Oscar Wilde said.

Racist taxit driver
On the way from the station to the university I got stuck with the traditional talkative genial racist taxi driver. He told me of how new Polish homless people are pushing our own good honest British homeless people out. He told me of how areas which were once happy and thriving are now no-go areas because of immigration. He talked a lot about people who he called “belligerents” – I’m not quite sure who these are, but I now know they carry machetties and come from “god knows where”.

I tried to point out that all the areas I’d lived in London (New Cross, Deptford, East Dulwich, Brockley) had been no-go areas 20 years ago and were now thriving and happy, but he didn’t seem to want to know. I even mentioned that statistically you’re safer on the streets today than you ever were – but this didn’t seem to sway him.

On the way back, I thankfully got a Muslim taxi driver who’s only worry was the traffic. In contrast to the previous driver, he thought Milton Keynes was a nice place to live. I suppose life is what you make it.

George has been having a couple of stroppy days – probably because Christmas and the new year saw him handed roun d from one person to another – an d that had to be tiring for him. Still, hopefully he’ll calm down in time to be disrupted by the hospital.

Too many TVs
After receiving two new TVs accidentally instead of one just before Christmas, we decided to do the decent thing and inform the company of their mistake today.

Lisa emailed them to let them know they could pick their TV up any time they liked, and their response was instant.

I returned home to discover that they’d delivered a third identical TV.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Sally, Colin and Lisa's four nephews came over yesterday and are staying until tomorrow. they're nice kids but make life a little chaotic.

They've gone to the tutankamon exhibition in the milenium dome today, so I'm back to work for the first time since before Christmas.

The first day back leaves me picking up the pieces and trying to figure out what I'm supposed to be doing at work. I quickly ran out a list of things to do and it looks long and complicated. when comparing the list to how long I've got to get back up and running, things get more tricky... I'm off to film in Milton Keynes on Friday, so will have to spend some of thursday preparing, I've got two deadlines (for Digital Video magazine) for Friday and on Monday, George goes into hospital, so I can write off the rest of the next week.

In the meantime, the todo list gets longer as it occurs to me that the long shadow of the Jan 31st tax deadline is looming. In addition, you can't have a break from work without returning with a list of new ideas and the New Year is a time for stepping back and taking a longer term view of how you're going to focus.

When the first few weeks of the new year are a crazy, unpredictable mess, it can be a little frustrating to your new year plans.... still, hopefully if I can get some of my future plans down on (digital) paper before they vanish into the turmoil of the Now, maybe I've got a chance...

That leaves me spending a valuable day doing things that aren't urgent and leaving the urgent things like my deadlines to become more so...

Having decided that instead of working on documentaries in a strict order, and being constantly frustrated when things stall which they frequently do for a thousand reasons, I'm going to start on the research phase of several - get things moving on finding interviewees - and then move each project forward as and when I can.

To this end, I've ordered a very diverse collection of books from Amazon...

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

3.7kg - george's weight today

3.7kg - george's weight today

Lisa went to the Doctor's yesterday and George was tested for eyesight, hearing, reactions, and various other things we already knew were pretty good just from living with him. The doctor has confirmed what we thought - that even though the surgery had written to us saying he needed his inoculations - this was wrong and that actually it would be better to wait until he'd recovered from the operation.

Another thing we'd had to work out for ourselves - if we'd followed the letter's advice and had the vaccinations, the operation could well have been cancelled.

Still, it's good news about the weight. He's well on target for the operation and very strong according to the Doctor (sorry - doctor - no capital - it's a profession, not a proper name - he's a doctor, not The Doctor).

New year
We celebrated New Year's Eve (capitals are right here, I think even though there's a new year every year...) - just the two of us dressing for dinner (me in a dinner suit, Lisa in a long dress) and eating at the table. It was lovely, after the hecticity of Christmas (ok - I made up the word hecticity - but I'm sure it should be a word).

Even though we ate at 10pm, we nearly fell asleep before new year - George is tiring, and so is Christmas. In the event, we stayed awake and watched the fireworks over London from the new loft room.